Nadal Is Back, Starts New Year Winning Melbourne Summer Set Title

Rafael Nadal (photo: Vince Caligiuri / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Rafael Nadal had never played Maxime Cressy before Sunday evening’s final in the Melbourne Summer Set at Rod Laver Arena. After winning his 89th ATP Tour singles title with a 7-6 (6), 6-3 victory, the World No. 6 from Spain will not soon forget his 24-year-old French-born American opponent, who was playing in his first tour-level final.

Nadal, appearing this week for the first time since last August, after recovering from a foot injury that shortened his 2021 season, did not drop a set en route to collecting his first title of 2022. The 20-time major champion has now won at least one ATP singles title in 19 straight seasons dating back to 2004. He was competing in his first final in Australia since losing to Novak Djokovic in the 2019 Australian Open title match.

Together, the 35-year-old Nadal and World No. 112 Cressy put on an entertaining match that lasted an hour and 42 minutes and highlighted their contrasting styles. Nadal was relentless with his customary, heavy topspin forehands hit from the baseline, while Cressy countered with an attacking serve-and-volley game that few players attempt these days on tour.

Nadal’s experience and can-do attitude rewarded him during Sunday’s final, in which he saved a set point during a first-set tie-break, then rallied from a break down in the second set. Nadal served up seven of his nine aces in the second set for good measure and finished with 33 winners overall. Nadal outpointed Cressy 73-61.

Despite the loss, Cressy ended his first tournament of the new season with standout victories against No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka and No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov. The former UCLA star will make his Top 100 debut on Monday following his breakthrough Melbourne run. He’s now assured of being in the main draw of the Australian Open, too.

During the trophy ceremony, Nadal and Cressy showed their mutual admiration for one another.

Cressy to Nadal: “Congrats to Rafa for an incredible performance today. I know it’s not easy playing a serve-and-volleyer these days, especially now that they’re gone, but it’s been an incredible honor to play against you and I’m super thrilled for you.”

Nadal to Cressy: “I’m sure your style will prevail and I really believe that it’s something new, again, that you bring to the game. So, it’s great to see again players like you.”

Later, during his post-match press conference, Nadal was asked if he thought Cressy could become a top player on the ATP Tour. “I think he has a good potential,” he said. “He’s going to be a very uncomfortable player for every opponent, for the top opponents, for the lower-ranking opponents. … I’m sure that on hard, indoor, grass, he can be a very dangerous player, and I am really sure that if he’s mentally prepared – I don’t know him, he looks quite nice and humble and professional – so, if he’s able to stay focused and do what he has to do, he’s going to be much higher on the ranking at the end of the season without a doubt.”

After five months away from the ATP Tour, Nadal’s latest singles title gives him something to build on with the Australian Open just a week away.

“To win a title is always special,” Nadal said during his post-match press conference. “At the same time, after all the things that we went through, I had tremendous support from my team without a doubt, from my family and, of course, there have been still doubts but even more doubts during a lot of months if I will be able to be back.

“There have been some very challenging moments, and I have been working very hard even in the very tough moments. I never say, and I will never say I deserve this, because I think a lot of people deserve, but I really worked hard. So, I am quite satisfied the way that I approached all these very challenging months in terms of attitude, in terms of positive spirit and in terms of passion to try to be back.”

After picking up his first title in Australia since winning the 2009 Australian Open, which also marked the 19th consecutive season that he has won at least one title, Nadal ended his press conference on a positive note. He said: “This title helps to keep going, and it’s of course just the beginning. I have a lot of things to keep improving, but I really want to do it, and I’m going to try hard.”

Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain made their team debut a successful one by winning the Melbourne Summer Set doubles title. They defeated Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan and Assam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan, 6-4, 6-4.

The top seeds won the title match in 89 minutes and dropped just one set en route to winning the title. It was Koolhof’s eighth tour-level doubles title, while Skupski has now won seven.

First Australian Title Match A Memorable One For Monfils

Top seed Gaël Monfils had never competed in a tour-level singles final in Australia until Sunday at the Adelaide International 1. Now that he’s finally has reached a title match Down Under, Monfils is 1 for 1 after beating Karen Khachanov, 6-4, 6-4, to win his 11th ATP Tour title Sunday in Adelaide.

The 21st-ranked Monfils covered the entire court at Memorial Drive with his usual style that combines a sense of flair with dexterity. The Frenchman saved both break points he faced from the 29th-ranked Khachanov and broke the Russian in the 10th game of both sets.

By the time Monfils secured match point after 80 minutes against the No. 2 seed Khachanov, he ended his title run without dropping a set. The victory, accented with six aces and 20 winners, was the 515th of his career.

“I want to say thanks to my team,” Monfils expressed during the trophy ceremony. It was his first tour-level title since February 2020 at Rotterdam.

“We have had some tough moments; we lost a little bit of faith. But we came back strong from July last year. It is amazing to play in front of you guys, to play in front of a full crowd and with a good spirit and atmosphere. This is amazing.

“It is a great tournament,” Monfils added. “I have been training here since 2009. I know the place very well. I love Adelaide, and I am very happy to win the title here.”

Rohan Bopanna and Ramkumar Ramanathan, both of India, upset top seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, 7-6 (6), 6-1, to win the Adelaide 1 International title in their first ATP Tour tournament together as a team.

The World No. 43 Bopanna, who played one Davis Cup doubles match together with Ramanathan before teaming in Adelaide, has now won 19 tour-level doubles titles. It was his first since 2020 at Doha. Meanwhile, the 144th-ranked Ramanathan won his first tour-level doubles title.